Musical Legends Who Died at 27 - Page 2

By Tony O'Neill 07/24/11

When she died last July, Amy Winehouse became the latest in a long series of musical legends to expire at  27. But Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison weren't the only ones to leave the stage three years shy of 30.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat

In his brief time on this planet, New York born neo-expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat burned a bright trial across the American art world. Basquiat’s career as an artist began in the burgeoning mid-70s' NY graffiti scene, where he created street art under the pseudonym SAMO. His rise was meteoric, and within five years he had gone from daubing his work on the walls of bombed-out Manhattan buildings to exhibiting with the likes of Julian Schnabel, briefly dating Madonna, working with David Bowie, collaborating with Andy Warhol, and appearing in Blondie’s “Rapture” video. Infamous for working in paint-splattered Armani suits, Basquiat energized New York art with an anarchic, rock-n-roll energy born out of the explosion of creativity around the Lower East Side, that had started with punk rock. His meteoric success led to him appearing on the front cover of New York magazine under the heading “New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist." Unfortunately Basquiat embraced the dark side of the lifestyle with reckless enthusiasm, and his growing dependence on heroin lead to bouts of depression and isolation that worsened when his friend Andy Warhol died in February 1987. Basquiat died six months later from a speedball overdose.


Dave Alexander

It’s impossible to overstate the influence of The Stooges on modern rock—the thrilling combination of the band’s ear-shattering proto-punk swamp-blues stomp, and the out of control vocals and manic stage presence of lead vocalist Iggy Pop, would cause a musical revolution and lead directly to the creation of what would later become known as punk rock. While the band was mostly unloved and neglected in its lifetime, albums like “The Stooges” and “Fun House” have since become recognized as legendary music statements, leading to the band’s belated introduction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. Even in a band as addled by booze, self-harm and chemical abuse as The Stooges, bassist Dave Alexander stood out. He was eventually booted from the band in 1970 after he showed up too drunk to play a show at the Goose Lake International Music Festival. His heavy drinking continued after he was fired, and his health began to suffer for it. Five years later he was dead from pulmonary edema, linked to his abuse of alcohol. Iggy referenced Alexander’s death on his David Bowie produced 1977 album, “The Idiot” in typical deadpan style: during the spoken word intro to “Dum Dum Boys” where he talked about friends whom he had lost along the way, he mused, "How about Dave? OD'd on alcohol…"


Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson 

Canned Heat was a band with two distinct personalities. When Bob Hite took the lead, they were a hard-rocking blues act. When Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson (so named because he could reputedly barely see without his glasses on) sang with his sweet falsetto, they had a softer, almost country-ish feel. Wilson sang lead vocals on two of the band's best known tracks, “On the Road Again” and “Going Up the Country," but success did not lead to Wilson's personal happiness: he reportedly attempted suicide twice before his death in 1970, although his fatal overdose on barbiturates in his Topanga Canyon home is not clearly established as either a suicide or an accidental overdose, since he left no note. He did, however, leave us with a discography that includes a live album with John Lee Hooker, in which the legendary bluesman was so impressed with Wilson’s guitar work he exclaims, “You musta been listenin' to my records all your life!"

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.